Trump knows how to rattle cages, without setting anyone free

I have a piece in today’s New York Times. It’s a contribution to the “Room for Debate” section. The question on the table: “Is Trump’s Foreign Policy Really That Unreasonable?

Here’s a sneak preview of my reply:

Rather than dismiss Trump’s claims in his New York Times interview as “unreasonable,” we should take seriously two of them — less for what they say about him than what they reveal about his critics.

During the Bush years, we had a name for laptop bombardiers willing to fight America’s wars with other people’s blood. But liberals today don’t talk about that. When a high-level official in the Obama administration says, “We are ready to give our lives” in defense of Latvia, liberals don’t ask, “What do you mean ‘we’?”

So Trump poses a version of the question. Not because he cares about the poor or people of color — his focus is on who pays the bills — but because he knows how to rattle cages, without setting anyone free.

But go check out the whole thing over there.


  1. xenon2 July 25, 2016 at 4:06 pm | #

    I read it—not very long.
    Trump suggest we might do w/o NATO.


    I don’t want a leader who is an ideologue.
    How exactly are Trump’s words supposed
    to set any one free?

  2. LFC July 25, 2016 at 5:22 pm | #

    Victoria Nuland’s statement, apparently made in November 2014, that “we are ready to give our lives” in defense of Latvia did leave her open to the retort given (btw, Nuland is a career foreign service officer, I believe, not an Obama admin political appointee, though she does (or did) have a high job in the State Dept for which she presumably needed Senate confirmation).

    The ‘chickenhawk’ accusation, however, may carry, in some contexts, its own pitfalls. Are the only people allowed to express an opinion about foreign & mil. policy decisions those people who would be personally, immediately affected by those decisions, or who have children in the military who might be deployed to a conflict? Should we give credence to Mike Pence’s views on these matters because his son is a Marine, but not to the views of a politician who either does not have children or does not have children in the military?

    Not everyone’s life, incl. when we’re talking about the political or chattering classes broadly defined, follows a straight-line career path, and the way military service is viewed has changed somewhat over time, even just taking recent decades into account. Many people, even some conventionally ‘successful’ people, would make some personal decisions differently if they had their lives to live over again. Through the late 1970s, in the wake of Vietnam, mil. service had a certain valence, for lack of a better word, in the culture at large, which changed in the Reagan years. [comment continued in next box]

  3. LFC July 25, 2016 at 5:24 pm | #

    [continuation of comment]
    The particularities of biography and date of birth thus have at least some bearing on whether a politician today served in the military as a young man (or woman) or did not. John Kerry’s path of serving in Vietnam and then afterward participating as a visible leader in the antiwar movement was an honorable one, but equally (if not more) so were the decisions of those who went to prison because they refused to serve in Vietnam (or Iraq, for that matter, though the switch to an all-volunteer army means this was much rarer in the latter case). In short, I have a certain leeriness about judging a political figure’s foreign policy views on the basis (even partly) of whether he/she served in the military or has children who do.

  4. Roquentin July 25, 2016 at 5:53 pm | #

    Trump posing questions about NATO is actually good thing. The fact many liberals can’t bring themselves to admit this just shows how self-serving so much of their commentary is. Trump also added a plank to restore Glass-Steagall to the platform at the RNC convention. It’s probably bullshit, like most other things he says, but it’s a positive step, and far more the Clinton is willing to do to reign in the excesses of the financial sector. People are so used to believing that the Democrats are always on our side that they’ve forgotten how to see past it, even if it’s just for long enough to gain a little perspective. Wouldn’t one hope this sort of thing would force Clinton to take betters stances on these issues, at the very least?

    Wouldn’t NATO force us to come to the aid of Turkey and Erdogan? Remember when they shot down that Russian fighter plane not to long ago. Image if Russia would have responded with force. What kind of conflict would that have lead to. Over a the bombast of a guy like Erdogan? Shouldn’t we all be questioning such a treaty, at least a little bit?

    What about Ukraine? The coup there (and damnit, it was a coup) hasn’t turned out very well. We supported hardcore nationalists and Neo-Nazis against an at least somewhat democratically elected leader (variable based on how legitimate you believe the elections were). It’s not like Russia has noble intentions there, they crassly are serving their own interests. But I sometimes just don’t get what they plan on doing long term after these interventions. The plan seems to stop 15 minutes after whoever is on the wrong side of regime change is toppled.

    • LFC July 25, 2016 at 6:29 pm | #

      There are different ways to “pose questions” about NATO. The way Trump did it is just stupid. Sure, as C.R. has pointed out, a lot of past US presidents have done a lot of bad things re foreign policy, and I have no interest in suggesting that Trump on this particular score is unprecedentedly bad. But what he said about NATO, if you look at the context, was bad.

      HRC’s positions overall are much better than Trump’s. If you discount half of what she says on the grounds that she’s a rank opportunist and discount half of what Trump says on the grounds that he’s batshit and will say close to anything on any topic, or alternatively offers a completely unachievable and undesirable agenda that’s a mixture of Buchanan and Reagan (which is what his acceptance speech was), then HRC still emerges as the better choice.

      I know you’re voting for Stein so I don’t expect you to agree. But I think a modicum of more candor in your evaluations wd not hurt.

      • LFC July 25, 2016 at 6:33 pm | #

        p.s. Personally I don’t see how anyone who listened to all 73 minutes of Trump’s acceptance speech, or alternatively read the entire transcript, could contemplate a Trump presidency without shuddering.

      • Roqeuntin July 25, 2016 at 9:34 pm | #

        I didn’t listen to any of Trump’s speech and have no desire to. Yes he would be a disaster, and no I don’t find him better than Hillary. However, give credit where it’s due. It says more about Hillary, honestly, that a reactionary clown like Trump can have certain foreign policy positions which are superior to her own. Hillary likes war and she likes regime change. If I’m really honest, I doubt she’ll be any less likely to start a war. She certainly wasn’t reluctant on Iraq or Libya.

        Also, what does it say about Hillary that once again, she can be outflanked on regulating banks by a clown like Trump. That it is more acceptable for him to discuss restoring Glass-Steagall than it is for her? It’s more of a comment on how far the supposed left has fallen, that Clinton actually manages to have worse political ideas than Trump on certain things.

        But she’s not nearly as racist as Trump, so there’s that. In America, you can start wars, demolish cities with bombs, transfer wealth to the financial services industry at the expense of everyone else, and show the stoniest indifference to the sufferings of the middle and lower classes. You’ll be fine….you might even be able to run as a “liberal” politician.

        But God help you if you say something racist….

      • Glenn July 25, 2016 at 9:34 pm | #

        A Trump win will drive stakes into the hearts of both neocons and neoliberals.

        Americans are such slaves to ideology it is reasonable to fear their running about like chickens with their heads cut off, seeking the security of the nearest new Napoleon.

        Of course, if all that America really wants is a new and better emperor, then Hillary will temporarily suffice without all the intervening transitory phases.

    • dipofbell July 27, 2016 at 5:33 pm | #

      “We’re ready” doesn’t mean NATO would “force us” to make an immediate military response to anything. It just means “we’re ready”. The opposite of April Glaspie saying “we take no position”.

  5. jonnybutter July 25, 2016 at 6:46 pm | #

    Nuland is a career foreign service officer, I believe, not an Obama admin political appointee

    Yes, although she was promoted in the O Administration. She is a well known neocon hawk, like her husband, and like HRC, and like virtually all of the supposedly ‘serious’ foreign policy ‘hands’ in DC. All too willing to say ‘we’ when they mean ‘other people’, including sometimes even more than one generation of other people.

    Are the only people allowed to express an opinion about foreign & mil. policy decisions those people who would be personally, immediately affected by those decisions…?

    Strawman, LFC. Of course the objection here is not to Nuland’s or anyone else’s freedom to have and express an opinion on foreign/military policy. It would be an odd thing to object to in a high State dept. official

  6. xenon2 July 25, 2016 at 8:15 pm | #

    2 short vids, please stand by:

    Victoria Nuland, the Queen of Nulandia

    and, my favorite,

  7. Joseph Begley July 26, 2016 at 12:17 am | #

    Why did you choose to put “all volunteer” military in quotations? Is your implication that blacks and the poor are unfairly coerced to join the military?

  8. Glenn July 26, 2016 at 9:48 am | #

    Even the Vietnam era draft was “voluntary”.

    One could “voluntarily” surrender oneself to enlistment, “voluntarily” seek deferment or “voluntarily” flee to Canada.

    It all depends on ones definition of “voluntary” and “coercion”. Many will not recognize economic coercion as “coercion”.

    Also, the concept of “fair” coercion has the flavor of square circle for me. Example?

  9. b. July 27, 2016 at 1:49 pm | #

    “[Trump] knows how to rattle cages, without setting anyone free.”

    One might say that Sanders did not even rattle the cage, he just sought a remodel

  10. Gregory Harris July 28, 2016 at 6:28 pm | #

    Glenn, that was beautiful. Fair coercion sounds like the kind of legalistic tripe we’ve come to expect from high officials.

    Also, this is a great example of my biggest concerns, re: the squashing of Sanders and his refusal to lead a left exodus out of the Dems. NATO is plainly a cold war relic that should be disbanded, to be replaced with a revitalization of UN peacekeepers (though that would probably involve some revision to the current security council-led structure that is its own Everest to climb), but because we can’t seem to muster a solid left movement to demand that, we are left with a right populist to hold the initiative on calling out the contradictions of the neoliberal state.

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